Whilst the parameters and overall specifics that define a genre of music such as noise or drone are undoubtedly minimal in a technical sense, the results they yield are often overtly maximal. The colourful sonic palettes, the sheer scope of dynamics and the cavernous soundscapes afforded by such a fundamental outlook on the facilitations of textures and timbre through both organic and computerised sounds amount to a vast and abstract space, in which the expanse of auditory creativity is arguably at its most extensive and extreme. This abstruse but natural dichotomy of minimal specifications and maximal results came to mind upon first hearing the title and seeing the artwork of Claude Speeed’s sophomore full-length recording, Infinity Ultra, and, it turns out, this was for good reason. Throughout his career, the Scotland-born but Berlin-based producer has routinely sought to tie together the through-lines that exist within various forms of experimental electronic music and their shared perspectives on the way in which sound occupies space. As such, these same states of minimalism and maximalism have remained readily apparent throughout Claude Speeed’s previous output. In fact, this is even more true considering the pervasiveness of a post-rock angle in his music, given that the same subtly but intricately layered approach to bringing together the melodic and rhythmic components of a composition that can be found in avant-garde electronic music also appear in post-rock. With this meeting of musical philosophies having already been firmly established on My Skeleton and Sun Czar Temple, Speeed’s debut LP and EP respectively, the artist’s newest endeavour, Infinity Ultra, seems largely focussed on advancing the influences from trance and hardcore, smatterings of which can be found on his past material. In doing so, the nooks and crannies of his usual noise, drone and ambient soundscapes are filled out substantially with sudden splashes of trance tension or rapid rushes of saturated hardcore intensity, making for what is surely Speeed’s most vibrant, varied and sonically dense undertaking thus far.
Across Infinity Ultra, it’s not merely the synths, VSTs and drones that oscillate wildly, but the entire flow of the album is structured around rather drastic and dramatic fluctuations between the primary stylistic touchstone present from piece to piece, with Claude Speeed executing these abrupt transitions surprisingly elegantly, as if merely toggling a dial. What’s more, even amidst all the genre-hopping throughout the tracklisting, each composition brandishes similar structural undercurrents, which witness an arresting juxtaposition between both a sense of blissful ambiance and cathartic urgency, resulting in a well-rounded album that remains anchored in its recurrent tonal themes. The pulsating, shimmering chords and soaring, ethereal vocals of the opening track, BCCCC, for example, not only inaugurate a serene backdrop for the sizzling synthesizer leads and growling, bassy fuzz, but craft a serious sense of tension that seeps through the sublimity of the luscious textures to form a stark and striking conflict in tone. The succeeding piece, Serra, however, takes a drastic turn towards the noisy, as a throbbing bass drone lays the groundwork for the palpitations of crisp distortion that see the bubbling gurgles of quivering fuzz abruptly let loose an abrasive howl, before crashing back down into the swamp of sprawling feedback. These points of counterbalance even recur on the overtly trace-infused cuts across Infinity Ultra, with Ambien Rave being a prime example, as can clearly be inferred from its name. Sans percussion, the glistening glides of jittery synth melodies — although warm and luxurious, courtesy of the soft cocoon of reverb — are stretched by their unorthodox phrasing and arcane time signature to the point of creating great tension, which is only bolstered further upon the later introduction of wiry countermelodies and swathes of dulcet ambience. Firth Fortress follows suit, with polyrhythmic layers of almost 8-bit-sounding synth stabs piling on top of one another, creating another soundscape of indulgent textures and timbre that nevertheless come together to form a slight sense of suspense, resulting from just how off-kilter the conflicting rhythms and how unpredictable the sudden strikes of minor tones are. Given both its title and the fact that numerous noises sound as if they could be emitting from a programmable sound generator, Fifth Fortress comes across as Claude Speeed’s attempt at a video game theme and, given that the artist has cited children’s anime as a conceptual influence for Infinity Ultra, it’s likely not a stretch to speculate that certain classic games may have inspired the album’s artistic themes too. Later on in the track, once the multiple tiers of synthesized polyrhythms have been firmly founded, there are numerous glitchy, spacey sweeps of sound that seem as if they could have been sampled from an arcade game and, at the very least, allude to a potential influence from artists who have previously integrated chiptune into their brand of electronic dance music. Either way, Speeed boasts a vast understanding of, and reverence for, stylistic principles from all over the electronic music map across the tracklisting, and perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Infinity Ultra is the extent to which the producer is successful in cogently rooting all of his far-reaching forays in the underlying likeness of all of these genres, as well as a compelling contrast in tonality that results in a sensational, and at times emotive, listening experience.
Throughout all of Claude Speeed’s eclectic and esoteric explorations across Infinity Ultra, however, there are few points wherein the musician’s artistic ventures could be described as inaccessible, even to those who have had limited exposure to genres like noise, drone or ambient music. To a certain degree, this unequivocally emanates simply from how lush, dynamic and vivid the colours in Speeed’s sonic palette are, coalescing in a stunning kaleidoscope of sounds at numerous points across the album, but it seems as if the easily appreciated nature of Infinity Ultra also arises from the extent to which the artist channels the stylings of some of electronic music’s most famous and widely beloved figureheads. A great deal of this can be chalked up to the distinct influence from various derivatives of rock music, particularly post-rock and progressive rock, which come together in a way that begins to lean towards the stylings of a composer like John Carpenter. Not only does it have a name that would fit perfectly snuggly into one of Carpenter’s Lost Themes albums, but the driving rock drumming of Entering The Zone also could have been pulled from the slasher film director’s musical playbook. The way in which the propulsive percussion thrusts the piece forward, as it punctuates the stabs of squelching bass, smooths out into half-time upon the entry of the refrain of sparkling synths, and breaks down into a complete thrash-and-bash fill fest during the accented bridge all reads like a traditional rock song structure. Yet, Speeed’s ear for erratic rhythms and skittish melodies pulls the piece away from being purely an electronic rock tune and towards the territory of the rest of the record. Just a few tracks later, Contact has a similarly accessible hue, despite being wrapped in Speeed’s typical, capricious approach to electronic music, with the composition’s wistful ambiance and glittering background noise framing the focus of the cut; that being the rich, warm, pitched-down vocal tones that evoke the electronic-based contemporary R&B stylings of Dirty Projectors’ latest, self-titled album. The closing cut, DreamDream, employs singing to a similar effect, with the looped vocal sample that is worked into the walls of roaring atmosphere, heavenly synth incidentals and hulking electronic drums imbuing the piece with the feeling of a drastically slowed-down EDM song. Indeed, the fact that such tracks as these can exist alongside the wailing, Merzbow-esque harsh noise of 800 Super NYC and VZJD, the dystopian, industrial ambience of Alternate Histories and the psychedelic explosion of styles on Windows 95 without Infinity Ultra seemingly sacrificing any semblance of its fluidity is testament to just how comprehensive and cohesive Claude Speeed’s protean experimentations are across the course of the album.
Coming to think of it, Infinity Ultra is rife with dichotomies, and not solely the superficial contrast in tone of the prismatic sonic palette that is set against the nocturnal, ice-cold, sinister soundscapes. The minimalist specifics of Claude Speeed’s stylings that nevertheless yield maximalist results, the sense of tension and urgency that emerges amidst the vibrant and plaintive ambience, and the admirably grounded accessibility of these otherwise obtuse descents into some of the most cryptic corners of electronic music all compile an impressively focussed and forward-thinking project, despite the extent to which it blurs the lines between its stylistic roots. Ultimately, given the yawning cavern of artistic and stylistic motifs that Speeed explores on the record, it would seem as if Infinity Ultra is just as much of a revelation for the artist as it is for the listener.
The Vinyl Verdict: 8/10